The Internet is a big place full of useful information, but a lot of it can sometimes be very hard to find because of poor Website design. Any Google search can bring up millions of possibilities, competitions for traffic to your site is fierce, and sites that are easy to use will be the ones that thrive. If your Website is intended to be nothing more than an online brochure with information that never changes, you can get away with mediocre design and navigation because visitors will only view it once, although it won’t leave them with a very favorable impression of you or your business. However, if you want people regularly coming back for more, you need to make sure your site has three crucial things:
- Changing Content
- Eye-catching design
- Easy Navigation
If you’re creating a new Website from scratch and you want to avoid the common mistakes, there’s a wealth of templates available, many of them free. You’ll also find templates offered by many Website hosting companies such as www.interland.com, www.register.com, or www.vianetworks.net. They typically allow enough customization in the look and layout that you can make the site appear to be uniquely your own, even without knowledge of HTML.
However, if you designed your own site when you knew just enough about HTML to be dangerous, you may prefer to clean it up yourself. You can brush up on your skills with free online tutorials offered by sites such as www.htmlgoodies.com, www.webdesignfromscratch.com, or www.smartwebby.com. Once you’ve refreshed your HTML knowledge, it’s time to review your site as if you’re seeking it for the firs time and figure out what you can improve. Here are some things to look for.
- Check your links regularly. All links on you site should be in a different color and underlined to set them off from the surrounding text. Readers shouldn’t be forced to roll the cursor over the text to find out all the links. Also, links should indicate where they go. If you’ve called a link “click here”, provide a pop-up that displays the full URL so visitors can see where a click will take them. If your site contains links to external pages, test each one to make sure they still work. If you continue to link to other Websites that have moved or shut down, you’ll frustrate readers and hurt your site’s credibility by sending them to dead ends. Also, make sure that every link to an external site you provide adds some value to your site. Unless the other site links back to your site, you’ve sent your visitors on a one-way trip from which they may never return. To help visitors to your site keep track of the links they’ve used, have the links change color after they are clicked. Within your own Web pages, refrain from creating links just for the sake of having them. Readers get annoyed when a link jumps only a few lines on the current page on the site that’s completely off-topic. make sure that the links to all elements within your site are still working so visitors aren’t seeing empty borders with red X’s in them instead of your graphics.
- Make sure you have a high contrast color scheme. Don’t torture visitors by using similar colors. No one wants to read yellow text against a white or light-blue background, red on orange, or royal blue on black. Unfortunately, designers make this mistake all the time – both in print and on the Web. You’ll never get any complaints if you stick to black text against white. Similarly, don’t give your background a pattern that camouflages the text.
- Make sure the text is legible. Crazy fonts are fun to play with, but if they aren’t easy to read, they’re useless on your site. First, make sure the text is big enough. Twelve points is best, but try not to go smaller than 10 points. Anything less than 10 points qualifies as fine print. The rules for reading text on the screen reverse what’s typically done for print on paper. On paper, readers find large blocks of text easiest to read in serif fonts, such as Times New Roman or Courier. The little tails on the strokes of each letter make them more distinctive. However, on the screen, a cleaner look is better, so most Web designers use sans serif fonts like Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana. The letters are plainer and have distinct ascenders and descenders so can tell an “h” from an “n” and a “q” from a “g”. Try to standardize on one or two fonts throughout the site. If you want more variety you can do a lot with size and color. If you simply must have more fonts, make sure they are sufficiently distinct from each other to make your choices look like deliberate attempts at design, not careless mistakes. Keep the lines of text short, Instead of letting words stream across the entire window, put them in 2 or 3 columns. Use lots of paragraph breaks to avoid having huge chunks of unbroken text. On a site, you can indent the first line of each paragraph, although the ragged left margin looks a bit messy, but you should still separate each paragraph with a blank line to create white space. Some other things to avoid are typing text in all capital letters and having along paragraphs entirely bold or italics. Don’t use underline for emphasis unless the underscored words happen to be a link. Web users have gotten used to links being underscored, so lines used for any other purposes can be confusing.
- Make sure the text is readable. Breaking paragraphs into small chunks is one way to keep readers going. Here are some other tricks to make your message more reader-friendly: Use bulleted lists. The items don’t have to be complete sentences. Use tables for material that can be listed side-by-side. Use sub-heads to introduce each new topic. Write in plain English and use short sentences; stay away from buzzwords.
- Get your graphics under control: Graphics add spice to any site, but they should be relevant and not so large that they take forever to download. Most graphic files on the Web are formatted as GIFs or JPGs. GIF are limited to 256 colors, and their file size is compressed without losing any quality so they can transfer quickly. Because of the color limitation, GIFs are best for graphics that use mostly flat, solid colors, such as cartoons and logos. When you need subtle gradations in color, such as in photos, JPG format is best. JPGs can contain 16.7 million colors. They can also be compressed to varying degrees for a smaller file size, but quality is lost depending on the extent of the compression. Both of these graphic formats are cross-platform, which means they loo kthe same on any type of computer, which is important for the Web because you never know who your site’s visitors will be.
- Go easy on the special effects. Elements that blink and move can be very cute, but a little goes a long way. If you have something that must be animated to be appreciated, let it strut its stuff and then stop it, or provide some means to do so, to allow visitors to focus on you site’s main content.
- Make sure your pages fit in the window. Making visitors scroll sideways on every line to read an extra-wide paragraph is a sure way to lose them. And if there’s any way you can avoid making them scroll down, do it. This may mean reorganizing your material so you have more, but shorter, pages. The standard browser window is 640 x 460 pixels. The most important information on each page should always appear in that space. Depending on the screen resolution they are using, visitors may be unable to view an entire page. For example, some sites are designed for resolution set at 1024 x 768 pixels. However, when the visitor’s screen is set to 800 x 600, everything appears larger.
- Don’t forget to give each page a title. A Web page’s title is the words that appear in the bar across the top of the window. If a visitor makes that page a bookmark or favorite, the first few words of the title are used to identify it. Many search engines also base their results on what’s in these titles. When you’re composing page titles, use descriptive words that you would find most meaningful if they were listed in your favorites. each page’s title should reflect the contents of that page.
- Make sure navigation is easy. Designing a Website isn’t like writing a book because the final product doesn’t have a beginning, middle, and end that’s read in linear fashion. Visitors should be able to access Web pages randomly, so each page must make sense by itself, and each page should have tools that make it easy to move anywhere withing the site. Navigation buttons should never lead visitors to dead ends that provide no way to return, at the very least, to the home page, However, it’s the mark of amateur design when visitors must always return to the home page to view another section of your site. Your navigation tools can consist of simple text links, buttons, or icons. What ever form they take, they should be clearly marked and consistently placed on each page. It has been a trend for Web designers to turn navigation into hide-and-seek, forcing visitors to roll their cursors over cryptic graphic images to find hidden text that reveals they’re actually navigation tools. While it may seem innovative and clever to mask all those clunky words like this, but it’s been known to cause visitor meltdown. Navigation options should always be readily visible and provide maximum flexibility. If your pages are long, this may place navigation tools at the top, down the side, and at the bottom of each window so users can click them from anywhere on the page.
- Put something meaningful on your home page. Too many home pages consist of nothing but a multimedia gimmick, such as music, slow-loading graphics, or animation, which visitors must endure before they’re allowed to gain entry to the site. Talk about a captive audience. Because it only takes a nanosecond to lose a Web surfer’s interest, your home page should always include some eye-catching and specific information about the site that compels visitors to keep exploring. However, if you can’ resist going off on an artistic quest, at least give visitors the option of skipping the drama and getting right to the content.
So there you have it, I know the list is long but I just trying to further your online experience. Take these pointers with you the next time you decide design a web site.